Quora's main purpose, as its name suggests, is Question or Answer. That was what it was originally designed for, though many things can grow beyond their original intentions.
The very nature of Q & A utilizes the complexities of language and relationships. We must use language in certain degrees to explain complex ideas to others, who can then read it and hopefully learn. In another part of this relationship, we can be eager to learn about a certain topic, subscribe, and read the answers provided. Thus (while this might sound obvious), in order for a person to read answers, another person must write them. This creates a complex social relationship between those asking questions, those answering questions, those commenting, and those reading.
This, in turn, can quite certainly lead to 'relationship discovery', as I have certainly found many incredibly intelligent and passionate people that I would certainly like to talk to in person. I have talked to these people through the use of following topics, following questions, following people, and reading answers. Some answers I agree with, some I do not. Regardless of my response, I still am creating some instance of a relationship.
Hence, I believe that 'relationship discovery' is simply a part of human nature, regardless of the social network, and is not the main aim of Quora. It would be somewhat similar to asking, "Is Facebook more of a game platform than a social networking site?" (though, obviously, not quite as pertinent because one can use Facebook without playing the games etc).
Instead, it's becoming is more than simply Q & A, and more than simply relationship discovery; Quora is, in essence, becoming a central repository of meaningful discussions, answers, and specific, subjective knowledge on the Web.
Facebook (product) is becoming a central repository of our social relationships.
Twitter (product) is becoming a central repository of our short-message discussions, thoughts, and so on.
Google Maps, Foursquare, & SCVNGR are becoming central repositories of places, businesses, and consumer habits.
Last.fm is becoming a central repository of our music listening habits and tastes.
YouTube is becoming a central repository of video communication around the web.
When one asks Google (company) a question (that is, they search for a result of an answer), they are presented with a series of websites which hopefully contain the answer. Bing also does this, and is getting much better. Wolfram|Alpha was released to a lot of buzz, as it was the idea of a 'decision engine' instead of a search engine–instead of finding a page, one was simply presented with the answer. Wikipedia has a series of articles which explain hundreds of thousands of topics, but never go into depth about specific topics.
Quora, however, is essentially going after the same result as Wolfram|Alpha and Wikipedia, except it is using social communication in the form of Q & A to create this.
Wolfram|Alpha is difficult to create, as it requires an incredible amount of data and algorithms that must be constantly computed in order to find results. This allows it to be malleable (such as a graphics calculator) and used in different contexts. Wikipedia, however, is designed to follow an encyclopedia-style of site, which can be edited by anyone. Subjective events, such as opinions, are meant to be kept out of Wikipedia's writing as much as possible.
In contrast, Quora has details on many opinionated and subjective questions that a site like Wolfram|Alpha simply cannot attack using data and algorithms alone, and Wikipedia simply cannot go into detail about–people drive Quora's content, algorithms drive Wolfram|Alpha's content, and referenced knowledge drives Wikipedia's content. All three want to store the world's knowledge but using different methods.
In the future, instead of Googling a question, you can simply see if someone has asked it on Quora. If they have, then your answer should be right there. Hopefully, if the site's community is capable of self-regulating (which is the purpose behind Upvotes, Downvotes, Improvements, and Edits), the top answer(s) should be just as, if not better to read (as they involve a humanized aspect) than – as an example – Wikipedia's equivalent article on the same topic.
- Is it bad to ask questions on Quora that could easily be answered via a Google search?
- Why do people use Quora to ask questions when Google or Wikipedia would be sufficient?
- On Quora, can you answer your own question? Is it bad form to answer your own question? ("Think about Quora as an accumulating database of knowledge.")
- Will Quora replace questions you ask on Google?
- When will Quora open up its content to be indexed by Google and other search engines?